Comic: Masters of the Obvious
Creators: Writers: Dan Price and Bonn Adame; Artist: Ty Tyner
Genre: Comedy/ Sci-fi
Referential humor is a common sight in popular media. Iconic imagery, costumes, catchphrases, and other memorable bits from popular works are often used as a source of comedy or as means to appealing to fans of the referenced work. Some of the more creative approaches twist the reference in a unique way, building on the joke or adapting it to the comic. Others turn to satire or deconstruction instead. There are all kinds of possible approaches, but it's also possible to overdo it, as Masters of the Obvious demonstrates.
To begin with, the site is simple enough in design, but the way the pages load isn’t very efficient. Clicking on the comics tab leads to the first page, but navigation doesn’t seem to allow for anything other than loading the next page or the previous. The pages are a little slow to load, as well. What’s odd is the site says readers can jump around the archives, but if there is an archives page, it's very difficult to find. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to link to the specific pages, so this review will use embedded images to provide the visual examples this time around.
Artistically, there’s definitely a sense of caricature in the character design. The people in the cast resemble something from a Saturday morning cartoon, but rather than looking heroic, they all look just a bit bizarre. On the whole, this works in the comic’s favor. The characters are stereotype parodies and very much look the part, from the Visible Woman’s unrealistically busty figure and The Amazing Todd's bulky Muscle Beach physique to the robot Dorkulon's clunky, inelegant toy robot build. However, while the coloring on characters and foreground elements looks good, the background coloring tends to be flat. Poses in this comic are also somewhat hit-and-miss; dramatic, exaggerated stances look good, but many of the poses meant to convey motion end up looking static instead.
|Note the dynamism in these poses and the varied highlights on their clothes...|
|...but here, they seem to be frozen in place. The background is pretty empty, too.|
The writing suffers from an overdose of references. Masters of the Obvious is mainly a science fiction with a superhero parody paint job and certainly makes fun of the genres, but the bulk of the humor puts too much emphasis on quoting a line or just making fun of something in pop culture. Some of the references are really out of place, mentioning things that have nothing to do with the world of the characters.
|They even acknowledge that here! So...why do they keep doing this themselves?|
It isn’t effective comedy because references are, simply put, not funny on their own. What makes them funny or memorable is the context in which they were originally delivered. They are funny by context, not design, and a work’s comedic potential is greatly reduced if it doesn’t account for that. At best, it will just come across as random.
|How many references are in this page? And do any of them make sense? Not really.|
To be fair, it's obvious the writers are doing this on purpose and they do often mock and satirize these elements. Sometimes, it works; the direct parodies of fictional and pop culture figures are much funnier, but even they are overshadowed by yet more references in the process. The characters even admit as much to themselves a few times, but having the characters point out a writing flaw doesn't mean it's not a flaw.
Fortunately, not all of the comedy falls flat. Perhaps one of the best things about this comic is the odd, somewhat dysfunctional relationship between Dr. Biclops and Visible Woman. Visible Woman is chronically disagreeable, forever waffling on whether she even likes Biclops, while Biclops himself is prone to hitting on her with very thinly-veiled intent that seems doomed to failure no matter what. They can barely get along and constantly thwart each other in any attempt at a relationship. Some of the funniest exchanges are between those two, though the other characters get in on the interactions as well. One of the most delightful moments comes early on when Biclops reveals exactly what he was hiding behind his mask all along.
|This is priceless.|
The reactions on this page are genuinely funny and the visuals really enhance the gag. It's a shame there aren't more moments like this, but that doesn't mean there couldn't be. The authors are clearly fond of poking fun at pop culture, but they are at their best when they produce something more original instead.
Many comics use references as a source of comedy and that’s not a bad thing. Readers who find jokes funny because they involve something they heard of before will probably laugh at most of the pages, but others might just find the comic confusing and unfocused. There is clear potential in the cast and the art direction has a sense of quirk and fun to it, but the comic's personal voice is awfully hard to hear over the concerto of catchphrases.